Six weeks flew by, and we’ve now closed the Maps and Apps website to new entries. We’ll be keeping the conversation going around apps for healthcare – more of that another time.

Behind the scenes, the real star of the show was Ideascale. For $849 the Department of Health (DH) could quickly produce a ‘crowdsourcing’ platform that allowed us to publish people’s ideas for new health maps and apps, as well as suggest their favourite existing examples.

Participants could also comment on other people’s entries and vote for them accordingly.

In the original plan for the project we were aiming for at least 1,000 interactions on the site: defined as entries, votes and comments. In the end we received 9,198 entries, votes or comments. Fair to say the team are very pleased with this, especially because there was no dedicated marketing. We used the DH corporate channels, held a launch event at Evelina Children’s Hospital and this generated some coverage in The Times, Wired and elsewhere.

Dr Shaibal Roy talks with patients at Evelina Children's Hospital

Dr Shaibal Roy and patients discuss health apps

Alongside the Ideascale platform we ran a simple sub-site with a blog, led by one of our judges, Dr Shaibal Roy. Entries are a mix of text, Audioboo and video. The blog has been a bit more of an experiment both for us and first-time blogger Shai. But it continues to be key to the project and a helpful way of expanding on some of the issues that Maps and Apps has raised.

We’re keeping the blog open as the project expands, so do have a read and ask questions.

Will we use Ideascale again? Yes, I think so. But I have a suspicion that its usefulness is determined by the topic and the audience. Using an innovative platform like this is appropriate for a topic like mobile health, which by definition involves innovation, but I am less sure how well people would take to it if, say, we wanted to apply it to a social care project.

If you are thinking of trying out Ideascale:

  • remember that when you set up your ‘community’ (this is the overall account and URL – ours is Department of Health) for a time-bound project, you will have to close the whole community at the end of the project in order for people to be able to review the content after the end-date. This is a slightly quirky feature with Ideascale. It seems that, at the moment, it is not possible to close a ‘campaign’ i.e. Maps and Apps, and still have it available for people to view.
  • campaigns can be closed and archived (so you don’t lose the information), but, as described above, it is not straight forward to review all the content in archived campaigns.
  • we received several comments about the fact that people had to register in order to use Ideascale, and that this wasn’t immediately obvious. I agree with this, although in defence of Ideascale, people can use existing social media profiles to register. In the end, 4852 managed to register successfully, but again this could be reliant on how whether or not your audience are web-savvy.
  • users are awarded badges based on how much they participate which seems like an excellent way to keep people involved. I haven’t got any evidence to prove this, but the Maps and Apps community has certainly brought out half a dozen or so regular and constructive contributors.
  • there are lots of useful moderation functions available. However, users are also able to flag content for moderation, which automatically removes the entry or comment from being publicly available. This caused a bit of upset among participants and could be open to abuse in other campaigns.
  • the support available from Ideascale under-promises but over-delivers. Big thanks to Rakhesh Nair and his colleagues who seemed to be available 24/7, despite being in the US. Very useful when I managed to turn the whole thing off one Saturday morning…
  • like any digital engagement project, plenty of man power is still needed, not least when it comes to moderating comments and entries. In particular users didn’t seem to understand or bother with tagging their entries, which can be very time-consuming to keep up with, but is pretty useful long-term.
  • the social media buttons and selection of RSS feeds made it really easy for people to promote the project across their own networks, and I think this contributed a lot.
  • however, it also meant that the most popular ideas were those that were best described, illustrated (participants can embed video and images) and promoted. I guess that makes them more deserving in some respects, but also means that some excellent contributions are buried a little bit further down each category.

Overall Ideascale is a very useful, cost-effective tool. There are some quirky features though, so it needs preparation, planning and ongoing management.

If you have used Ideascale, or are thinking about using it, I would be interested to hear your comments and suggestions.

Image courtesy of Department of Health and Evelina Children’s Hospital